The much-maligned amphibious transport dock ship San Antonio returned to Norfolk Thursday afternoon after 10 days of sea trials, and commanding officer Cmdr. Thomas Kait seemed like a very happy man during a press availability in his onboard cabin.
“I would characterize it as an A-plus,” Kait told reporters. “I don’t know how many times I said `great’ or said, `This is the first time this ship’s done this in two years’.”
Kait said crew morale was sky-high, “just knowing that their gear worked. All the hard work they put forth over the past two years. I know there were a lot of people rootin’ for us who had left the command over the past six months that put a little blood and sweat into it as well. I know they were cheering for us on shore as well.”
This first of two phases of sea trials was dedicated to validating the main diesel engines. Kait said the ship operated about 80 miles off the Atlantic coast to steer clear of shipping and also kept maneuvering to a minimum, all so as not to throw off the vibration analysis equipment and other engine testing gear. A stepped series of tests, each more intense than the previous step, culminated with a full-power demonstration.
“We went full speed on all four engines for one hour,” Kait said. “We did some rudder swing checks. We shut power to the steering units to make sure they’d hold at a 25-degree rudder — which they did fantastic.” The ship then went all astern, full power, and followed that with the same steering checks performed going forward.
There was a bit of vibration as the ship got to 25 knots and up, Kait said — “which we would expect to see.” He received one report of a sailor standing between two main engines while underway who “said they were purring like kittens.”
Drive train vibration had been an issue when engineers searching for the cause last year discovered misaligned or non-tightened foundation bolts and an improperly installed main reduction gear. The problem, coming atop efforts to repair electrical, lube oil and other systemic problems, forced officials to cancel the ship’s scheduled deployment this year.
Kait, mindful of those issues, was careful not to get overly enthusiastic. “Instead of saying we’re doing great, I’d like to say that we’re getting back to where we should be,” Kait said. “We have a little bit of a checkered past, but I think we’ve overcome that. We’re not doing anything special. We’re following the maintenance requirements cards — just what every other ship does.”
During the second phase of sea trials, which begins in June, more emphasis will be placed on the San Antonio’s combat systems. “We’ll do a lot more maneuvering, to increase our proficiency,” Kait said.
If all that goes well, San Antonio will start preparing for only its second deployment since being delivered in August 2005. Kait said he couldn’t yet say when that might happen but said that the ship will begin the now-standard 20-week basic training phase. Integrated training with other amphibious ships would normally follow. But should a contingency arise, he said, San Antonio will be ready to respond once its flight and well decks are fully certified — probably by the end of summer, Kait said.